F. Scott Fitzgerald’s second novel centers around Anthony Patch and his beautiful wife Gloria. Inspired by Scott and Zelda themselves, this couple live wildly in 1920s New York, seeking pleasure at any cost.
Anthony, a would-be aristocrat waiting for his inheritance, spends his bachelor days at clubs, attending raucous parties, and entertaining women. When he meets Gloria, a beautiful golden girl bursting with life, he immediately falls in love with her. The two marry and proceed to have as grand a time as possible.
Once married, Anthony and Gloria come to see each others’ flaws. Anthony can’t bear working and lives off of his small allowance. He can’t make definitive judgements, doesn’t know how to say no, and is incredibly possessive of Gloria. Gloria is selfish, wild, and as vain as she is beautiful. The two share an equally passionate and tumultuous relationship.
Anthony and Gloria live a life as carefree as can be, throwing lavish parties and drinking all night. They shirk any type of responsibility, reveling in their youth and beauty. They begin to live well beyond their means, sure of inheriting a windfall when Anthony’s grandfather dies. However, their dreams come crashing down when the couple are caught in a disrespectable position and Anthony is disinherited. It’s shocking and terrible, but they don’t let the loss of their inheritance cramp their style! Oh no, they fight the will, continuing to live large all the while. Gloria has the odd notion that as long as she can be happy today, the future doesn’t matter. It’s totally fine if they spend all of their money now; when she’s old and poor, she won’t care about having a fine time. Because that makes all the sense in the world.
The couple goes on, desperate for wealth but unwilling to work for it, living extravagantly despite their lack of fortune. As their lust for money consumes them, their partnership begins to fall apart.
I didn’t love this book as much as The Great Gatsby, but I thought it was an excellent portrayal of 1920s New York. The Beautiful and Damned is such a perfect title for it, perfectly capturing the empty decadence of the time. It’s a classic Fitzgerald theme: characters seeking pleasure in lavish parties and expensive things but ultimately finding them empty. Characters being destroyed by their desires, desires which have no basis in reality.
“Things are sweeter when they’re lost. I know — because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, Dot. And when I got it it turned to dust in my hands.”
Anthony and Gloria live a hedonistic lifestyle and willfully ignore all consequences of their actions. I couldn’t like either of them, but it was impossible to look away from the train wreck of their relationship. It’s a dark book with an ending that caught me off guard. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just ask people who have already read the book: What did you think of the ending? Do you think it was fitting for Anthony and Gloria? What do you think will happen next?
I’m glad I read this for Jazz Age January! This was actually the second book I read this month, but I kept putting of writing about it for some reason. I’ve enjoyed reading more about Fitzgerald since reading this book. Careless People included a fair amount of information about The Beautiful and Damned, and it was interesting to read about which incidents from the book were inspired by Scott’s life with Zelda. I’ve read in a few places that all of Scott’s flapper girls are based on Zelda, and it was intriguing to consider Gloria from that perspective.
I would definitely recommend this book to others interested in reading about the jazz age!